Exterior renovations on Nehrling Gardens historic home complete
After two years and plenty of work, renovations on the historic 1880s house at Nehrling Gardens are complete.
| 11:54 a.m. September 30, 2020
When the Henry Nehrling Society purchased the historic 1880s home and surrounding gardens nearly 11 years ago, there were people who couldn’t see past the then-overgrown site.
But Angela Withers — board president of the Henry Nehrling Society — said the society saw beyond the mess it once was and envisioned its potential.
“We knew the bones of the house were good and that the house was a terrific example — an unusual example — of what we have left of Orange County in that period,” Withers said. “It gave us a focus on not only the significance of the man who worked there, but also what he did there. … We felt like, ‘We’ve got this extraordinary site, but it’s a matter of getting it and starting to clean it up to the point where people understand that yes, you can do something with it.’”
Today, visitors to the historical, 6-acre site in Gotha are greeted by the luscious gardens where ornithologist, horticulturist and scientist Henry Nehrling once grew and experimented with thousands of plants.
Most recently, his home has received a makeover, thanks in part to a $56,500 matching grant from the Florida Division of Historical Resources department, Withers said. Nehrling Gardens’ match consisted of more than $30,000 in cash, in-kind supplies, consulting and volunteer labor, she added.
Renovations included repairs to the metal-shingle roof; repainting; back porch reconstruction and other exterior wood repairs; front brick-porch and brick-pier repairs; lead-based paint removal; repainting; window screen repairs; and UV filter interior inserts for several library and living-room windows.
After incorporating as the Henry Nehrling Society in 1999 and purchasing the property in 2009, the nonprofit applied for three Florida Division of Historic Preservation matching grants in successive applications. The third time was the charm.
This grant marks the first state funding Nehrling Gardens has received. Theresa Schretzmann-Myers — vice president of the board, grant writer and volunteer coordinator — was instrumental in helping secure the special-categories grant after applying for it in 2017.
As part of the requirements for receiving the funding, they had to file a restrictive covenant on the land to ensure the property will not be developed or demolished. Schretzmann-Myers also had to document the site plan, costs, photos and updates.
SOME TLC FOR HISTORY
The scope of the project was an impressive, top-to-bottom undertaking. Scott Sidler, founder and master craftsman of Austin Historical, served as the historical-preservation contractor and oversaw the process.
Work began with the roof and metal shingles — all original from the 1880s. Orlando Roofing was instrumental with helping out.
“We removed the rust, and we restored and neutralized the metal,” Schretzmann-Myers said. “Any place where there was a cracked shingle that was leaking, we replaced that with another shingle. ... We had to replace maybe 14 to 16 cracked shingles — that was it. … Then we sealed and repainted the shingled roof.”
Then there was the work on the back porch, which essentially had to be rebuilt due to lots of rotted wood. Schretzmann-Myers added that throughout the entire process, the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation had to be followed.
“You have to follow those standards, because the Secretary of the Interior is where you get your designation as a national registered historic site, so they want you to follow all the standards of trying to preserve all the original wood you can,” she said.
“Wherever we encountered rotted wood, it had to come off, and then you have to see what the problem is behind it,” said Mike Neff, the society’s House Committee chair and board member. “Everything is checked and rechecked.”
There was brick work done on the front porch and piers. Then there was the lead-based paint removal, one of the most challenging processes. Nehrling Gardens used Dumond Peel Away to strip more than 100 years of paint.
To the group’s surprise, the uncovered wood began oozing turpentine after the paint was stripped away, and they had to wait until the oozing ceased to repaint. They used an oil-based primer to seal it, followed by the new coat of paint, donated by Florida Paints.
Now that the work is done, they can look back and take some time to celebrate this years-in-the-making accomplishment.
“The people who have worked to help us get this far have just been wonderful — our wonderful board of directors, and the members of the community who have shown up to help on the projects that we do,” Withers said. “And our garden team who keeps our garden looks so great. It’s just a sense of amazement, in a way, at what you can accomplish.”
What’s more, in August, Nehrling Gardens and Austin Historical received a Restoration/Rehabilitation award from the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation for their joint efforts in exterior restoration of the home.
“So much is owed to the community believing in our team,” Withers said. “This place is special, very special. There’s so much benefit for the community in having a place like this. … It’s been an undertaking, but a worthwhile one — and we have so much more we can accomplish.”